Monday, May 9, 2011
A titan of industry is importuned
A gray squirrel scurried up a tree trunk, and a blue jay took wing, as the tromping of heavy human footsteps was heard in the brush. Emerging from a tangle of vines and secondary growth into a clearing by the side of a creek, a tall and still powerfully-built septuagenarian whacked a machete against his boots to shake loose the leaves and splinters that had adhered to the blade. He carefully held back the branch of a small tree to permit an even larger septuagenarian to pass before him. The two men were dressed in khaki cargo pants and safari shirts, their bald heads protected from the sun by old-fashioned topees. The larger man took a swig of water from a canteen, cast an eye around the glade and suddenly pointed a sturdy, silver-knobbed briar walking stick in the direction of a small plant growing near the base of a pine tree.
“There, Spurgeon! Success, at last! Have you ever seen a finer specimen of Dionaea muscipula in your life?”
“No, sir, I have not. And were it not for the rigid requirements imposed upon my conduct by the code of the gentleman’s personal gentleman, I confess that, in other circumstances, I might well have been tempted to say ‘Cor!’”.
“’Cor’ indeed, Spurgeon! In fact, it would not be going too far to say ‘cor blimey’ or even ‘cor love a duck.’ Give me the spade, my dear fellow, and I shall uproot this gem of the plant kingdom.”
Spurgeon reached into his knapsack to remove the desired implement, but froze as he was about to hand it over to his employer.
“A moment, sir. Do you hear that noise?”
The larger man – who, not heretofore having been properly introduced, we will now identify as that world-famous tycoon, J. Packington Paco III – furrowed his brow as he listened intently. There was a gentle, rhythmic plashing of water, followed by the sound of multiple vicious slaps and an angry outburst of profane language. Suddenly, an aluminum canoe hove into view, its single occupant brandishing a large, economy-size tube of Benadryl anti-itch cream. His eyes lit upon our two explorers.
“Well, Uncle J.P! What a coincidence, finding you here in the middle of the Green Swamp! Talk about your serendipity or kismet!”
J.P. cast a baleful eye upon Spurgeon, which he then shifted back to his nephew, known familiarly, if not quite affectionately, simply by his surname, Paco.
“Somehow, Paco, I find it difficult to believe that a whimsical fate has thrown us together in these swampy environs.”
Banking his canoe, Paco slipped over the bow, the muck by the creek-side seeping over the tops of his shoes. With a loud *shloop*, he extracted his feet from the mud and padded over to his uncle, assiduously applying the anti-itch cream to his face and arms.
“Damned mosquitoes! I don’t know how you stand them. What were you saying? Ah, yes. Fate. Truth to tell, fate received a helping hand from your appointments secretary, who mentioned that you were heading down to Wilmington – and that could only mean one thing: that you were looking to beef up your stable of carnivorous plants. And, whaddaya know, isn’t that a Venus Flytrap Spurgeon is hovering over, spade in hand?”
J.P. released one of his booming laughs. “Mwa-ha! You are quite the scamp, young Paco, no doubt about it. And what, prithee, has moved you to set off down this malarial stream in a leaky canoe to find your loving old uncle?” (Aside to Spurgeon: “As if I didn’t know!”)
“Well, that is rather the nub, isn’t it – whatever a nub may be. You see, Uncle J.P., as you no doubt know from reading the newspapers, I have announced my candidacy for president.”
J.P.’s eyebrows arched, like two furry rainbows. “That datum has somehow managed to elude my normally voracious reading. Er, exactly which newspapers carried this startling, not to say, ominous, announcement?”
“Oh, all of the major news outlets back home. The Fairfax Times, the Prince William County Intelligencer, the message board in the Safeway at the corner of Lee Highway and Nutley Street. I’m astounded that the prospect of a Paco presidency hasn’t yet made a ripple in the world of finance and commerce.”
“There was a spike in the retail price of chili-flavored Hamburger Helper.”
“Great stuff! Wait until my first state dinner, when the King of France tucks into a plate full of that! He’ll never go back to snails.”
“I believe France has a president.”
“Hey, he can come, too. Anyway, the Republican field is weak, and I’m poised to be a successful dark horse.”
“Don’t you think you’re underrating the competition?”
“Not at all. I figure weekly trips to one of the better tonsorial establishments will give me an edge over Romney in the ‘important hair’ department, and I can out-drawl Mike Huckabee. Tim Pawlenty comes across as kind of a human tranquilizer, which will never happen with me, since I plan to do conjuring tricks during debates, and I have a photo – I’ve been assured it’s genuine – of Sarah Palin shooting grizzly bears with a .50 caliber machine gun mounted on the back of a Dodge Ram truck. That ought to draw the crunchy-con vote.”
“What about Mitch Daniels?”
“Hmm. M’yes, I see your point.”
“But, Uncle J.P., you know as well as I do what it is that makes the political world go round.”
“Fidelity to the principles of the founding fathers?”
“Well, er, yes. That, plus a mountain of jack. And since you’re so well endowed with the green stuff, I had hoped you might rally round with the ol’ checkbook.”
Spurgeon began absent-mindedly thumbing the edge of his machete blade.
“You know,” Paco said brightly. “That is a very robust specimen of Venus Flytrap. It would look so much at home among your pitcher plants and bladderworts. How unfortunate that it is illegal to remove them from their natural habitat. I understand the penalties for doing so are rather steep – and of course, one can’t even begin to put a price on the public embarrassment.”
Another of J.P.’s laughs exploded, scattering a flock of ravens from the branches of a nearby oak tree. “Gad, sir, you are a man after my own heart, surely you are. And exactly how much would it cost to heal the damage to your conscience, sustained in turning a blind eye to the harvesting of this plant?”
“I think a few hundred thousand, to start. That will get me started with some radio advertisements and yard signs, and a new top hat for my conjuring tricks in the debates.”
“Well, young Paco, you have me over a barrel, you do, indeed.” J.P. withdrew a checkbook from one of the side pockets of his cargo pants. “May I borrow your pen, Spurgeon? No, not that one,” he said, giving Spurgeon a knowing look. “The other one.”
Although Spurgeon was prevented by the articles of his code from actually beaming, the almost imperceptible spasm at one end of his upper lip revealed to his master that he was beaming inside. He handed over the pen with a slight bow.
J.P. scribbled out a check, then separated it from its mates. “There you are, Paco. See if that will hold you for a while.”
Paco took the check, a smile spreading across his face among the welts from the mosquito bites. “Very generous, Uncle J.P! A steady supply of these, and I’ll have to see if I can’t wangle a cabinet position for you, or at least an ambassadorship.”
J.P. smiled. “Someplace tropical, if you don’t mind, nephew. These old bones have come to deeply appreciate the heat.”
Paco climbed aboard his canoe, shoved off, and disappeared around a bend of the creek, the strains of “Moon River”, intermingled with the sound of loud slaps and a series of very vocal condemnations of the insect order, diptera, fading away in the distance.
Spurgeon removed his topee and tipped it to his employer. “Very prescient of you, sir, if I may say so, to have reminded me to pack the pen with the disappearing ink.”
“My dear fellow, if we’re going to tramp around the woods like a couple of Boy Scouts, we may as well follow their motto: ‘be prepared’. Now, where were we? Ah, yes! The spade, if you please, Spurgeon."